Whenever I’m in a reading slump, I turn to my OG love: the fantasy genre. Something about a new world with magical beings, blue hair, impossible myths, half-humans and angels is impossibly appealing to me. I’ll fully immerse myself in a world that – to my knowledge – does not exist, and I will devour it. Ironic, since in this particular trilogy, the world is constantly at risk from being actually devoured by monsters of the universe.
For most, just the sentence ‘monsters of the universe’ is enough to be put off from ever touching this series, but if you’re drawn in by it then keep reading this review.
Daughter of Smoke & Bone (2011) by Laini Taylor
“The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century—or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plasterwork and capped in roofs of uniform red….The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.”
I picked this up because I was in love with Strange the Dreamer and I was fed up with waiting for the sequel. Laini’s writing is beautiful as usual but I did not fall in love with any of the characters the way I fell for Lazlo Strange.
The wonderful thing about this genre is that the fantastical elements will morph into metaphors for anything that’s on your mind. Because of this, fantasy books always make me think deeply about the human condition. Whether you’re contemplating race, war, religion, faith or friendship, you will be able to turn the magic into metaphor.
“Humanity, perhaps, that quality of benevolence that humans have, without irony, named after themselves. “
In a way, the book tended to me to be a satire on the way humans think and the way society works.
“It was hard to imagine feeling that magical tingling sensation in the pit of her belly anytime soon. Best not to worry about it, she thought. She didn’t need it. Well. She didn’t want to need it. Yearning for love made her feel like a cat that was always twining around ankles, meowing Pet me, pet me, look at me, love me”.
I’m going to be completely honest now and say one of my favourite parts – more so than all the human condition mumbo jumbo I just spewed – of reading fantasy books is the romance. Give me a good love story and I’m happy. Undying, impossible loves where people recognize the same souls in different bodies is just irresistable to me. The more unrealistic the better (except for all that Twilight-I-am-nothing-without-you crap that makes me gag, like you can ALWAYS survive losing someone, you need to be strong enough on your own).
“It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such”.
Anyway, I was totally here for the first installment’s moral-of-the-story, which is: hope comes from within you and wishes are just magic. Wishes are false. Hope is true. And hope and truth makes their own magic.
“And what do you know of the value of wishes”?
Days of Blood & Starlight (2012) by Laini Taylor
So, it’s really hard to talk about sequels without spoiling the first book. But I’m going to try and stay abstract (you can go look up a summary online if you want a synopsis, because you guys should know by now I’m all about the analysis).
“It was interesting the way a small hate could grow inside a big hate and take it over”.
The second book delved into the way prejudice works, and that hit home. There are all sorts of label wars in the world today: people hate Muslims, people hate Zionists, people hate African Americans or other minorities. How do we get convinced into hating a whole group of people we never met and channel our anger into that hate based on a single label? Especially when one label is never all we are (go look up the concept of intersectionality). The book (and even more so in the final installment) then addresses a more important question: how do we go about undoing that hate?
“Why can’t they just leave us alone? she wanted to scream, but she didn’t. She knew it was a childish thought, that the wars and hates of the world were too big for her to understand, and that she was no more important in the scheme of things than these moths and adderflies drifting in their shafts of light”
The second novel in the series has a lot of pain and separation. The separation of identities, the separation of family, the separation of lovers a lot of bloodshed too.
“I am important, though, she insisted to herself. And so was Sarazal, and so were the moths and the adderflies, and the slinking skotes, and the star tenzing blooms so small and perfect, and even the tiny biting skinwights, who, after all, were just trying to live.”
I’m just going to leave you with one more quote. I know I’m heavy on quotes in this post, but sometimes that’s the best way to build up the essence of a book.
“Her dream. A dream dirty and bruised is better than no dream at all.”
Dreams of Gods & Monsters (2014) by Laini Taylor
“There are breeds of silence”
I am finding the task of writing without spoilers increasingly difficult. Let’s just say that in the final book we find out the overarching problem which made the problems in book 1&2 irrelevant. Which was annoying to me because the buildup of one war became futile and another war was suddenly rushed to priority number one in too short a time.
“They would all learn what promises were worth.”
There were a lot of existential crisis narratives in this book.
“Happiness wasn’t a mystical place to be reached or won—some bright terrain beyond the boundary of misery, a paradise waiting for them to find it—but something to carry doggedly with you through everything, as humble and ordinary as your gear and supplies. Food, weapons, happiness”
But all the characters just kept on chugging, which is something I found admirable. Btw, there are a few trigger moments of violence in the latter two novels.
“He had accepted life as a medium for action. Something to wield like a tool. One’s own life: an instrument for the shaping of the world.”
Greed is the fatal sin in this trilogy. Rivalry, immortality and the fathering of unwanted children. All of these things vie for first place as the deadly spawn of greed.
Also, it ends with a really cool remix of the idea of time and prophecy/myth. So mostly, we assume that legends and lore already took place. That myths happened, but this book treats time as cyclical in a way and what was thought to be a story of origin actually turned out to be a prophecy for the future. This stood out to me, in terms of story-telling techniques.
“He was a small thing adrift in a great absence. He lived with a crack in his mind, a thousand years in exile.”
The message is standard, but I fall for the power of these messages each and every time: love is not trivial. Love is not frivolous. Hope is life-changing.
“A woman in full command of her power, unbowed and unbroken, and that was a dangerous thing”
Anyway, what’s more universal than the message of peace? Cliche or cheesy, I still believe it’s true.
“They could be a big, crazy tribe, come one, come all, angels and devils at rest and in love”
This post is dedicated to Ms. Lulwa Al Ali for forcibly pushing me out of my writer’s slump the way this trilogy pulled me out of my reading slump in September.